Friday, August 24, 2012

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Yesterday, I went to my first baseball game in Japan.  Resolved: It will not be my last.

Getting there was an adventure.  I was running late so I just grabbed my wallet and the tickets and left, completely leaving my map behind.  Since I have run to Kleenex Miyagi Stadium multiple times, I figured that I didn't need my map...until I got the train station and realized that knowing how to get there on foot and by train were two different matters.

Then I saw a father and son (both adults) wearing baseball jerseys march onto the train platform I was waiting at and I followed them onto the correct train and from the train to the stadium.  I'm sure the son gave me weird looks multiple times since I just always happened to be right behind him but trying to appear as nonchalant as possible in the process.

When I got the stadium, I found that my seat was taken...by a family.  The wife immediately tapped her husband on the shoulder and told him to move but I quickly told them it was fine and scuttled past them into what I presume were their original seats.  In any case, no one asked me to move and sitting next to this little family was preferable to sitting by myself.  The family was very nice to me and their adorable son didn't care if I spoke Japanese or not - as long as I showed the appropriate amount of enthusiasm at how cute he was.  (Believe me - there was no lack of that)

Baseball is such a funny sport because in so many ways, it is so American.  Sitting in my seat, checking the scoreboard for the inning, and then looking at the count board to check the balls and strikes and outs, I felt right at home.  I knew exactly how to watch the game and what to look for.  When a player went up to bat, I would read his stats and know what to expect.  The stands were full of baseball jerseys and families and diehard fans and little league baseball teams all out for a great evening.  Hawkers moved through the stands selling snacks and drinks and beer.  It was America's pastime all over again.

However, there were lots of bits of Japanese culture thrown in too.  For one, there were cheers for every single player and not just cheers but songs.  There was a whole fan section who all dress up and have banners and signs and drums even and spend the entire game leading the rest of the crowd in the chants.  (The opposing team had a fan section too.  They had a lot of songs with the words "Lalalalala" in it and there was a lot of jumping up and down from them.  I found myself continually laughing at them)  The most notable player's cheer was for Teppei.  He's so famous that he has only one name and Teppei is what goes on the back of his jersey.  When he went up to bat, all of these banners with his name appeared and everyone just yelled, "TEPPEI" in ten or twenty second intervals.  Later, they broke into the chants and the songs but that first time, it was simply that call.  It was impressive.

Baseball teams also have their own fights songs.  During what should have been the seventh inning stretch, we all stood up and sang (with gusto) the Rakuten Eagles Fight song.  Baseball players are very quick to pass balls to the crowd.  At one point, a ball was hit along the baseline and when the ballboy sprinted to go fetch, he found that Teppei had jogged over and picked it up.  The ballboy looked at him expectantly and Teppei turned instead to the crowds and tossed it to them, much to their delight.  The ballboy just shrugged like he had guessed that would happen and sprinted back.  Everything really was quite delightful.  It made me realize how the Japanese had taken a sport and truly made it their own.  Part of me wished we could import some of it back to the States since I have so many friends who think baseball games are boring and this game was pretty much anything but.

With all of the cheers, it took me a while to notice though the lack of Americanness in the cheers.  No, "Hey batter batter..." calls or insulting jeers to the ump.  There was also a decidedly large lack of the organ and the wave.  And let's not forget the Take Me Out to the Ball Game song.  Makino-san himself is sad about that.  He dreams of the day when he can go to an American baseball game and stand and sing that song during the seventh inning stretch.  Honestly, it's an awesome tradition.  I don't blame him for his dream.

The game!  Yes, there was a game.  It was exciting.  We were leading by 3 when I got there and went up another run to make it 4-0.  Then top of the eighth, the other team got a run.  Top of the ninth, they got two more and with runners on base, it looked like we might have to go into the bottom ninth to pull it out.  However, our pitcher struck the last guy out and that was the game.  We won!
This is the view from my seat, with a dinky phone camera, not zoomed in.  So yes, awesome seats. 

This was the cheering section for our team.

The scoreboard.  Kleenex Stadium.  

The cheering section for the opposing team, the Marines.

Teppei! in the outfield

The infield

After the game, everyone stayed around while they interviewed the best hitter and the best pitcher from the game.  It was actually really hilarious and the more senior player (the hitter on the left) kept teasing the younger player and making everyone laugh.  I looked it up later - the younger player was only 18.  No wonder he looked so "deer in headlight"y.  

The young pitcher, Katama

The interviewing, with cheerleaders who told you when to applaud.

The stars of the night making their way around the stadium to shake hands and throw out autographed baseballs.   

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